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 user 2006-10-09 at 10:33:00 am Views: 38
  • #16675

    YOUR BOSS KNOWS you’re reading this story.
    shouldn’t come as a surprise. Employees have come to expect that their
    company keeps track of the web sites they visit and the emails they
    send. But does it stop there?It’s a question many are asking thanks to
    the recent scandal at Hewlett-Packard (HPQ1), in which the company
    hired private investigators to spy on board members and reporters
    covering the company. The investigators were accused of using
    “pretexting,” or illegally masquerading as their targets to obtain
    their phone records.It’s an extreme example of a company that went too
    far, says Jeffrey Stanton, a Syracuse University professor and author
    of “The Visible Employee,” a book on workplace surveillance based on a
    four-year study of company practices. But illegal ways like pretexting
    aside, he adds, when it comes to most anything else — whether it’s
    tracking employees’ instant messages or the records of company
    telephones — employers have the green light.

    A federal law known
    as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), for example,
    allows companies to track and record email, Internet browsing, instant
    messaging and blogging at work, or even at home if it concerns
    work-related issues, says Nancy Flynn, director of the ePolicy
    Institute. As a result, more than two-thirds (76%) of employers
    participating in a survey the ePolicy Institute conducted together with
    the American Management Association (AMA) said they monitor Internet
    activity; 55% said they store and review employee emails. More than a
    quarter (26%) reported they have actually fired people for
    inappropriate Internet or email use.In short, don’t be fooled by that
    office door or high cubicle walls. “The employee has no expectation of
    privacy,” Lynn says.Where it gets interesting is how much employers can
    actually do within their rights to monitor their workers. If you’re
    still reading this story, for example, chances are your boss can find
    out exactly how long you spent slacking off. And if you emailed this
    reporter, your boss could find out what you wrote — even if you never
    sent the message.Only two states — Delaware and Connecticut — require
    employers to tell their employees that their web activity is monitored,
    Lynn says. Even so, the majority of companies do tell their employees
    they’re being watched: 89% say they’ve notified employees of tracking
    web usage; 86% alerted them to email monitoring; and 85% informed them
    of video surveillance.The problem is how they did it, Stanton says.
    During the research for his book, “we did run across companies that
    were doing a very bad job of telling their employees about what kind of
    monitoring they were using,” he says. “Someone had written it in a
    little policy manual that someone stuck on a shelf and we had to dust
    it off when we got there.”

    Here are some of the new ways your company can watch you.

    Recording Every Click
    monitoring doesn’t end with going through email and a list of visited
    web sites. Now, thanks to software programs like SpectorSoft2,
    employers can record practically everything employees do on their
    computers and watch it as if on videotape, says Jay Mellon, vice
    president at AtNetPlus, a Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio-based IT security
    consultancy.It’s a fairly common practice. More than a third (36%) of
    the companies surveyed by AMA, for example, said they monitor web
    activity by using keystroke-tracking software, which can also monitor
    the time spent at the keyboard. These companies not only know what you
    wrote in an email, but also how long it took you to write it. They can
    access it even if you never sent it.

    Following Employees
    one of these electronic passes you need to swipe to get into your
    office? Don’t be late for work. Your employer knows exactly when you
    came in and, if you use the card to access different parts of a
    building, where you went during the day. More sophisticated cards have
    chips that can be read from a distance of a few feet, Stanton says,
    which means the employer could wire up the building with sensors and
    locate your exact movements within. “This can be very helpful in a
    hospital, if the administrator needs to locate a surgeon, for example,”
    he says. “But as with anything, you can go too far. How much do you
    really need to know when your employees used the restroom?”Even without
    a key-card monitoring system, a creative employer could find a way to
    track down its employees during company time. Greg Suhajda, chief
    operations officer at corporate security and business intelligence firm
    Veritas Global, was hired to investigate a company’s employees who
    weren’t as productive as the company thought they should be. What
    Suhajda did: He suggested the client give its employees prepaid gas
    cards as a company perk, and then track when and where the cards were
    used. One employee was caught red-handed when she used the card at 3
    p.m. on a work day, at a gas station 20 miles from the office. She had
    told her boss she was in a meeting downstairs.

    Smart Cameras
    — even hidden ones — are among the most obvious workplace surveillance
    equipment. More than half of the companies surveyed by AMA (51%) said
    they used video monitoring in 2005, compared with 33% in 2001.What most
    employees don’t realize is how technologically advanced video
    surveillance can be. Old cameras used tape, so if you wanted to monitor
    a building 24/7, you’d have to have someone go through hours of tape,
    Mellon explains. Today, cameras have digital recorders with sensors
    activated by movement. So imagine you go to your office at 10 p.m. The
    office cameras will sense the movement and start recording. An alert
    will go out to your manager’s cellphone. Your manager will log onto a
    web site and watch — live — as you go about your after-hours business.
    He will be able to zoom in or tilt the camera remotely, so he can
    follow you through the office.”This technology used to be very
    exclusive and expensive,” Mellon says. “It’s very accessible and
    affordable now.” His company has implemented it in all kinds of
    businesses, from tanning salons to construction companies, retail
    locations and regular offices. (Some business owners have found this a
    great way to keep an eye on the business while on vacation, Mellon

    Office Spies
    nothing gets the job done like a real human. When a company has a
    persistent problem — drug use, theft or the leaking of sensitive
    information, for example — it can hire trained individuals to pose as
    employees and report back to the employer.”Trained observers,” Timothy
    Dimoff, founder of security firm SACS Consulting & Investigative
    Services, calls them. “It’s a very effective way to discover where the
    problem is,” he says. “The observers talk to the employees and it’s
    amazing what the employees will tell them. They’re basically a pair of
    eyes, ears and brains trained to watch and listen.”Typically, a human
    spy is a last resort companies turn to only after being fairly certain
    of the problem, Dimoff explains. It’s more prevalent in blue-collar
    workplaces, such as factories and production plants, but isn’t unheard
    of in office environments.Veritas Global has had to place undercover
    employees in an auto manufacturer’s plant to catch suspected drug
    dealing, Suhajda says. But he has sent his agents to cubicles, as well.
    A client was recently tipped off that an employee who worked in sales
    was “stealing” clients and taking their business to competitors for a
    commission. So Veritas Global placed an agent to work alongside the
    suspect. “Monitoring his calls didn’t get anywhere,” says Suhajda. “So
    we brought in someone to gain his trust, talk with him, eat with him —
    a human monitor to gain his rapport and actually see if he was capable
    of this.” Four and a half months later, they had become so close that
    the guilty employee decided to bring his office buddy in on one of his
    deals. “And that’s how that went,” Suhajda says.